About Gregory Burns: My name is Gregory Burns.  I am a student at Drexel University, and I am studying Biomedical Engineering.  I grew up in Washington Township, a town in southern New Jersey.  I stayed in New Jersey until I began attending Drexel.  I have been living in Philadelphia Pennsylvania since then, which has been a little under five years.  

Judges' statement

Gregory wins honors because he favored us with one of the most probing essays we saw.  He went beyond the numbers to explore exactly why the shapes of districts matter to our democracy. Nicely done. The metrics of his map were fine, but its somewhat jarring look kept it from ranking higher.

Personal statement

The major focus I had when drawing the 17 districts was competitiveness.  I felt that this was an important aspect due to how polarized the political climate has become in recent years.  

The general prevalence of gerrymandering - and the polar schools of thought that the Internet has brought about - have led to very divisive debates driven by strong party loyalties. 

Unfortunately, I do not believe that these trends will diminish anytime soon, so I designed my map as an attempt to combat this.  I believe that there will always be a large population of voters who will only ever vote for one party.  I discussed this idea with many of my peers, and most of them say they know at least a handful of people to which this statement applies. 

So I believe that by making as many districts as competitive as possible, the elections can become more focused on the issues.  While each party may have a base in each district, the result of the election will then depend on how well the candidates can sway the “on the fence” voters. These voters usually will be influenced by either the candidates’ overall appeal or how well they seem to represent the values of that district, not by their stance on one hot-button issue.  This, hopefully, will allow most elections to be less about party line battlegrounds and more based on compromise and civil discussion.

Unfortunately, this was difficult to accomplish around the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as urban areas tend to be heavily dominated by the Democratic Party.  I attempted to balance this out by a number of tactics.  This will hopefully prevent too much imbalance.

 Finally, I also wished to ensure some minority representation as I feel this is very important.  People of different ethnicities have different issues that need to be addressed, and without having their own representation in at least a few districts, these issues might be overshadowed.

 Unfortunately, since splitting the district based on competitiveness took priority, this was not as prevalent in my map as I wished it could have been.